Existentialism and Ginsberg

I bought this book called Basic Writings of Existentialism around this time last year. I just started reading it and realized that I never knew that Dostoevsky had a darkly funny side. If you ever get the chance read Notes from the Underground, I highly recomend it. How can you not love a piece of writing that begins: “I am a sick man…I am a spiteful man. No, I am not a pleasant man at all.” The sentiment is a bit Pauline, but I am not sure that Dostoevsky would think so. Maybe he would, though, because he also believed that suffering leads to moral purification. I am not sure whether I completely agree, but I do think it is a great thing to think about.

Interestingly, when we went to Washington, DC, my mom and I had a moment, as I assumed we might, in which I could no longer control my anti-military, slightly, okay overtly, anti-patriotic ranting. She said that she wished I had been raised more patriotically. I said, flippantly, that I was glad I hadn’t been because I like having a mind of my own. I realize after thinking about my response, that what I said wasn’t entirely what I meant. What I said, or how I perceive that it came across, is that because she is patriotic, she doesn’t have a mind of her own. What I meant, was I am glad that she raised me to think for myself. She and my father always encouraged me to think about things critically. I meant to say that I am glad that they instilled some rational thought within me, so that I could decide to be pacifist and not entirely patriotic, even though people around me are neither. I still respect those other people, but it is hard not agreeing with others around me. What I shouold have said was, I am glad that you raised me to think for myself, like you do.

Here is one of my favorite Ginsberg poems. I think it says somethng about the evolution of America. I memorized it for class last semester, so Becky had to hear it 97 times. She doesn’t like it as well as I do. I don’t blame her, she had it memorized well before I did.

A Supermarket in California by Allen Ginsberg

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocadoes, babies in the tomatoes!—and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of can following you, and followed in my imagination by the store detectives.
We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, posessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.

Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in houses, we’ll both be lonely.
Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage [as in Camden once]?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonly old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

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